Back to Nature (Published on - March 23, 2006)
Diversions and sojourns
Photo by Karen Mitchell Tremmel
Gulf Coast-Florida boat-tailed grackle gleams proudly while posturing for a photo opportunity.
We all have to do unpleasant chores or activities when we’d much rather be doing something else. But we also find that if we set a reward at the completion of that activity we have something to look forward to.

For example, we’ve learned if we eat the spinach then we can have an ice cream for dessert. Or get all the homework done and we may go outside and play. Eliminate the ice cream and other sweets, and we may be able to fit into that pretty bathing suit we’ve had our eye on in the catalog. And so it is with our goals and rewards system.

One endeavor I intensely dislike is driving on downtown freeways and in downtown bumper to bumper traffic. Get me out on the open road with a picnic basket and a pair of binoculars, and it’s difficult to bring me back home. Stick me in traffic, wedged between transfer trucks and delivery vans, exhaust fumes billowing into the pure blue sky, with some hotshot in a red sports car feeling a need for speed, cutting back and forth between lanes, well, hell on earth has pretty much been created right there for me.

But life still goes on whether we enjoy doing some things or not. The mortgage still needs to be paid, groceries need to be bought, meals need to be cooked even when we are tired and kids need to be fed. And whether I like it or not I still have to strap on my seatbelt several times a week in an effort to sustain a reasonable lifestyle. It just is the way it is. We do what we “gotta” do.

So I have devised a plan.

After investigating a map I locate the nearest beach or nature preserve to my destination then I leave at least one half hour early for my journey. This plan has offered me the opportunity to visit many out-of-the-way places I may never have had the chance to go see.

On one recent sojourn I visited a local beach near my destination. There were only two other cars in the parking lot. The sun’s warmth was glorious, while a nearby yacht club provided gentle music with the banging of ropes against tall masts. The water spread out to infinity. In that distance I observed a large freighter slowly working its way across the horizon.

As I raised my camera to capture the scene I was unexpectedly distracted by a gregarious visitor less than 3 feet from my shoulder. As I turned to view this curious character I was met almost eye to eye with a lone boat-tailed grackle. After a gentle hello and how are you, I took a step back and viewed my guest through the lens of my camera. The grackle found the camera as curious as I found the grackle. We both stared at one another for awhile then I clicked off several photos. The grackle relaxed and began to preen itself and seemed to enjoy the wind tussling its feathers in a mess again.

Grackles are difficult birds to distinguish. Size, color of eye and shape of tail offer the best clues, as well as song. The common grackle, Atlantic great-tailed grackle and boat-tailed grackle have yellow eyes, but the Gulf Coast-Florida grackles have brown eyes. The boat-tailed grackle and the great-tailed grackle are even more difficult to distinguish. The great-tailed grackle is larger and the tail is extremely long.

Males of all three species of grackles are black birds with an iridescence to their feathers. Boat-tailed grackles are greenish-blue iridescence. Great-tailed grackles are purplish-blue iridescence. The common grackle has a variegated, multicolored iridescence.

Females are predominately bronze-brown. It may be necessary to access your birding guide to distinguish between the female boat-tailed grackle and the female great-tailed grackle.

Karen can be reached at

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